Location: GUM Ghent

Language : English

Target audience: this is a closed session

Historical research on sensitive cultural topics poses some interesting challenges. Both public and private archives contain historical sources and objects that are considered offensive today: human (and often anonymous) remains, images and objects from problematic colonial periods, or artifacts that are deemed (too) erotic or obscene. These historical sources not only tell us something about the past, but also our present. They reveal that ethical values and norms are historically determined and thus changeable. This also implies that our current ethical standards may well become outdated in a few decades. How do we deal with these types of delicate historical source materials in the communication of our research? Is it our moral responsibility to publicly display and frame these sources? How do we do so without giving offense or pursuing sensationalism? Without (unintentionally) replicating and reinforcing the historical value system we want to analyze and frame.

In this seminar, we will start from a number of concrete questions that arose from ongoing research and engage in dialogue with ethicist Prof. Freddy Mortier, GUM director Marjan Doom and the GUM team. In the run-up to the inauguration of the renovated museum in 2020, they developed a code of ethics on possible ways to handle academic heritage.


This is a closed session. GUM and the SciFair team are still defining their own trajectory and criteria on handling these types of heritage and do not claim to present best practices (yet).

Preparatory reading:
  1. Words Matter: An Unfinished Guide to Word Choices in the Cultural Sector, published by Tropenmuseum Amsterdam (available in Dutch & English): www.tropenmuseum.nl/nl/over-het-tropenmuseum/words-matter-publicatie.


Dr. Marjan Doom (GUM Director)

is Master in Veterinary Medicine and holds a PhD in anatomy. As the director of GUM (Ghent University Museum), that opened its doors in October 2020, she is setting out the mission and vision of the museum. She also curated its permanent display for which she chose a science philosophical narrative, juxtaposing objects from a wide range of disciplines (from the humanities and social sciences to the hard sciences). This approach aims to evoke reflection on scientific thinking and the process of knowledge creation rather than to clarify research output and results. As such the collection is interpreted as a material trace of the human quest for knowledge. With this vision, GUM fully embraces the societal role of universities to encourage and educate critical citizenship, supporting the university’s motto “Dare to think”. Simultaneously, this approach embraces the societal role of museums as public spaces where reflection and dialogue are activated. Marjan is also author of "The Museum of Doubt" and TedX speaker.

Freddy Mortier (MA, PhD - Ethicist)

is professor of ethics at Ghent University (Belgium) and guest professor at the Free University of Brussels (VUB). He is currently director of the Academic Heritage and Archive Unit of Ghent University, Pro-Vicerector of Ghent University and former Dean of the faculty of Arts and Philosophy. He studied at Ghent University and at the University of Paris I (Sorbonne) and got his PhD in philosophy at Ghent University with a dissertation on views of the human body in 18th century French paediatrics and obstetrics. His interests in bioethics are mainly directed at end-of-life research, including the ethics of euthanasia and other end-of-life decisions. Other fields of special interest are the rights of minors in health care and the relation between religion and health care. He teaches general philosophy and bioethics, more specifically the ethics of killing. He is a.o. a member of the Ethics Committee of the Ghent University Hospital and a former member of the (Belgian) National Advisory Committee for Bioethics.